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Sodomy laws in the United States, laws primarily intended to outlaw certain sexual acts concerning sodomy, were historically pervasive, but have been invalidated by the 2003 Supreme Court decision Lawrence v. Texas. While they were often originally intended to outlaw sex acts between homosexuals, many definitions were broad enough to make certain heterosexual acts illegal as well.

History of US law

In 1778 Thomas Jefferson wrote a law in Virginia which contained a punishment of castration for men who engage in sodomy

On June 26, 2003, the US Supreme Courtmarker in a 6-3 decision struck down the Texasmarker same-sex sodomy law, ruling that this private sexual conduct is protected by the liberty rights implicit in the due process clause of the United States Constitution. (See Lawrence v. Texas.) This decision invalidated all state sodomy laws insofar as they applied to noncommercial conduct in private between consenting civilian adults, and overruled an earlier ruling from 1986 in which Georgiamarker's sodomy law had been upheld. (Bowers v. Hardwick.)

Before that 2003 ruling, 27 states, the District of Columbiamarker and 4 territories had repealed their sodomy laws by legislative action, 9 states had had them overturned or invalidated by state court action, 4 states still had same-sex laws, and 10 states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. military had laws applying to all regardless of gender. In 2005 Puerto Rico repealed the sodomy law and in 2006 Missourimarker legislatures decided to repeal the anti-homosexual "conduct" laws - leaving only three states yet to repeal anti-homosexual "conduct" laws: Oklahomamarker, Kansasmarker and Texasmarker.

In the U.S. military, the United States Army Court of Criminal Appeals has ruled that the Lawrence v. Texas decision applies to Article 125 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the statute banning sodomy. In both United States v. Stirewalt and United States v. Marcum, the court ruled that the "conduct falls within the liberty interest identified by the Supreme Court." However, the court went on to say that despite Lawrence's application to the military, Article 125 can still be upheld in cases where there are "factors unique to the military environment" which would place the conduct "outside any protected liberty interest recognized in Lawrence." Examples of such factors could be fraternization, public sexual behavior, or any other factors that would adversely affect good order and discipline.

United States v. Meno and United States v. Bullock are two known cases in which consensual sodomy convictions have been overturned in military courts under the Lawrence precedent.

Prior to 1962, sodomy was a felony in every state, punished by a lengthy term of imprisonment and/or hard labor. In 1962 Illinois became the first state to end its sodomy laws, almost a decade before another state followed. Over the years, many of the states that did not repeal their sodomy laws had enacted legislation reducing the penalty. Immediately prior to the Lawrence decision in 2003, the penalty for violating a sodomy law varied very widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction among those states retaining their sodomy laws. The most harsh penalties were in the state of Idahomarker, where a person convicted of sodomy could theoretically earn a life sentence. Michiganmarker followed, with a maximum penalty of 15 years imprisonment (repeat offenders got life), this was later invalidated by a Court case under Michigan Organization for Human Rights v. Kelly.

Around the time of the 2003 Supreme Court decision, the laws in most US states were no longer enforced, or were very selectively enforced. The continued presence of these rarely enforced laws on the statute books, however, was often cited as justification for discrimination against gay men and lesbians.

[[Image:Map of US sodomy laws.svg|right|thumb|400px|US sodomy laws by the year when they were repealed or struck down.


State laws prior to 2003 invalidation

Sodomy laws and penalties in US states and territories, immediately prior to their invalidation in 2003, according to information provided by the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund and the American Civil Liberties Union were as follows:

Note that in the 1970s, sodomy law(s) were repealed in two states (Idaho [45502] and Arkansas [45503]), but before the repeal(s) took effect, the sodomy law(s) were re-introduced. [45504] [45505] [45506] [45507]



  • "repealed" - means abolished from the law books (statutes)
  • "law invalidated" (examples are from Court cases, such as; Lawrence vs Texas) - means still in the law books (statutes), but can not be enforced


Sources: [45508][45509] and [45510]

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